Drivers Switch Gears to Fuel-Efficient Cars

Looking for a way to reduce your monthly bill at the gas pump? You’re not alone. All across the country and beyond, drivers stung by rising fuel costs are looking for relief, and many are taking action by trading in larger vehicles like SUVs for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Sales of the Toyota Yaris (above), for instance, soared by 46 percent in April, when compared to the previous year, while sales of the Ford Focus jumped 32 percent in April, according to reports.

It’s easy to see why – the Yaris with a manual shifter ekes out 36 miles per gallon on the highway, according to the EPA. Thanks to its 11-gallon fuel tank, you can fill it to the brim for 25 or 30 bucks or so, while drivers of big SUVs are shelling out $60 or $80 (or more) per fill-up. The Ford Focus manages a respectable 35 miles per gallon on the highway, comes with six airbags, and can be equipped with such high-end features as the Ford Sync voice-activated communication and entertainment system. These days, it’s a bargain in more ways than one (prices start at under $14,400), and it could represent the wave of the future.

In fact, many automotive observers and experts believe we’ve reached a tipping point, which arrived when gas prices crossed the $3.50 per gallon mark. Sales of compact and subcompact cars accounted for about 20 percent of total auto sales in April, a first for the industry, according to The New York Times. And many believe the trend will continue, with sales of small cars continuing to grow steadily while sales of larger vehicles, such as big SUVs, continue to shrink.

So what’s available in showrooms today for drivers who are looking for better fuel efficiency? Quite a lot, as it turns out, including some models you might not expect. The Pontiac G5, for instance, gets up to 35 miles per gallon on the highway, although Pontiac recommends premium fuel, which sort of negates any mileage benefits cost-wise (the car will run on regular gasoline but not at peak performance). The Chevy Cobalt with the 2.2-liter, four-cylinder engine and manual shifter manages 33 miles per gallon, while the MAZDA3 four-door sedan with the 2.0-liter double-overhead-cam engine (above) gets up to 32 miles per gallon while still delivering a respectable 148 horsepower.

Of course, trendy cars like the Honda Civic Hybrid (45 miles per gallon on the highway), the MINI Cooper (up to 37 miles per gallon), the Scion xD (33 miles per gallon), and the venerable Toyota Corolla with the four-cylinder, 1.8-liter engine (35 miles per gallon) all represent good options for budget-crunching drivers. The fact that those cars are imports is not lost on Detroit, which finds itself scrambling as drivers migrate away from profitable SUVs to less-profitable compacts and subcompacts. What will this mean for American automakers, and how will they respond to this fundamental shift in buyers’ driving habits? Stay tuned – we’re about to find out.

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